FM15 Italian Hero, Season 3 – A pleasant surprise

It’s fair to say that this season was rather successful…

Season 3 final league table

Which therefore means, mission accomplished…


So how did we do it, and what does this mean for the save?

Well, to answer the first question, we did it with a certain amount of style.

In the end, we finished 6 points clear at the top of the table, having had a couple of stumbles along the way. There was a point just after January where I thought we’d never shake Spezia off. Then, in about March, their first-choice goalkeeper picked up an injury which ruled him out for about six weeks (a news item I celebrated, I’m slightly ashamed to say) after which their form deteriorated.

Season 3 results part 1

Season 3 results part 2

The most pleasing aspect of this is that I achieved it playing a different style of football from my normal approach, and I’d also taken the bold step of changing a winning formula because I wasn’t happy with how it played. Ultimately, I ditched the 3-1-4-1-1 for a more conventional-looking 3-5-1-1 (or 3-3-2-1-1) if you prefer. You can see the issues I had with the 3-1-4-1-1 in the screenshots below.

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These two aren’t from the same move, but as you can see, as attacks progressed the wide midfielders crowded the box and robbed me of my width. My answer was to move them back to WB(a) and the problem was pretty much solved. This gives me better defensive balance too, as we are rarely caught on the break down the flanks any more.

It’s also a source of pride for me that I had a perfectly viable backup formation which I could use as and when necessary. This is the 4-1-4-1 which I have shown briefly in a previous post, but I’m including it below for completeness.

4-1-4-1 Defensive Season 2

Again, this is a different approach for me in a number of ways – firstly, it is rare for me to develop two distinct tactics to be available simultaneously and secondly, the 4-1-4-1 uses a Defensive mentality, something I’ve avoided in the past. For this, I must thank Cleon and Rashidi. It’s taken the best part of two years since Cleon wrote his first ‘School of the Defensive Arts’ piece for FM14, and I’ve watched a lot of Rashidi’s Torino Diaries series (often in incomprehension) but things must be sinking in. For anybody struggling with tactics, his ‘Make the best tactics’ videos are very helpful.

As for the future of the save, I’m definitely going to continue it. As the club had very little in the way of a youth system, I’m determined to upgrade that until we have a decent conveyor belt of young players appearing. I don’t know whether becoming regular title challengers is a realistic aim, but I would certainly like to think that we could get into Europe and add a couple of Coppa Italia’s to the trophy cabinet.

I probably won’t continue with the annual updates (unless there’s a significant clamour for them). Instead, I think I may focus on specific events or techinques I use. I already have an idea for a squad management post, which I hope will appear before too long….

In the meantime, Forza Messina!

FM15 Italian Hero – I went a bit mad…

So the summer transfer window has come and gone, and I’ll freely admit I went a bit bonkers, as you can see from the screenshot below. There is a reason for that though.

Season 2 pre-season transfers

Towards the end of season 1, with Catanzaro looking unstoppable and the prospect of one play-off promotion spot among the twelve teams in the play-off spots across all three divisions of Serie C, I started preparing for the worst and signed a couple of midfielders who I hoped would give us a more solid foundation for controlling games. I was concerned that my loan players wouldn’t want another season of third tier football so moved early and this perhaps wasn’t the wisest course of action…

When we secured promotion, suddenly a lot more players were interested in joining Messina and with a generous wage budget available I had money to burn, and burn it I did. Amazingly, I still didn’t exceed my budget and went into the season with money still available.

However, the the greatest cost of all these signings wasn’t financial.Instead, it was in terms of tactical familiarity. As the season went on, it became clear that many of these signings weren’t really clicking and on several occasions I found that the team performed better if I picked players who had been at the club from day one even if they were inferior in terms of their attributes. As a result, many of these players (particularly those who were signed when I thought I might still be in Serie C this season) found that their spell at Messina would be short-lived.

Season 2 results part 1

Season 2 results part 2

As you can see from the fixtures, we had a decent season, with things going OK in the first few months. Then came the run of 5 defeats on the trot which forced me to abandon the 4-3-3 which had brought me so much success at Volendam and Forest.

To start with, I dropped the mentality to Defensive, simply because I was tired of my team conceding goals. This was slightly better, but it wasn’t until I turned it into a 4-1-4-1 that things really improved. I had also watched Rashidi’s Torino Diaries episode in which he talked about creating space for attackers. It was this that made me think of switching to a Complete/Advanced Forward as I felt I wasn’t getting enough goals from my strikers.

4-1-4-1 Defensive Season 2

Then, with results and confidence improving, I made another bold step. Why wait to make the switch to a back three? As a result, with a little tweaking, I created this system:

3-6-1 Messina Season 2

Readers of the general FM blogosphere will note a strong resemblence to FM Analysis’s tactic from his Ajax save. I won’t deny that my system is heavily influenced by his shape. It was thanks to his article on defensive shape that I had the courage to play my wide players in the midfield strata rather than playing them as wing-backs.

I will go into the thinking behind the system in greater detail in another post, along with my intentions for how it should evolve in the near future.

In the end, the results improved to such an extent that we finished 7th and qualified for the end of season promotion play-offs. One of the things I’ve discovered (and like) about the Serie B play-off is that they are very flexible, and take into account the performances of the teams at the top of the table. For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s the breakdown:

Serie B promotion rules

All very complicated, but that’s not all. In the play-offs themselves, they are skewed in favour of the teams who finish higher up the league. As a result, we had a one-off away match against Spezia which we needed to win. And I mean that literally – a draw wouldn’t take us to extra time and penalties, we would simply be knocked out and Spezia would progress by virtue of having been the higher-placed team. So it proved as I’m sure you’ve seen from the screenshot above.

Still, 7th place when predicted to finish 20th was very encouraging. I’m aiming for promotion next season using my fancy new 3-1-4-1-1 system, though I have doubts about certain aspects of it (but that’s for another post).

FM15 Italian Hero – a second chance

Season 1 final league tableSo the season ended with the narrowest of disappointments.

We played well over the last few matches and picked up a maximum 9 points, but so did Catanzaro, and where we won our games 2-1, 3-0 and 1-0, they won 2-0, 3-1 and 2-0, boosting an already superior goal difference. Even head-to-head wouldn’t have helped as we’d beaten them 1-0 only to lose the return match 4-0. Their form over the second half of the season has been very impressive and try as I might, I can’t really begrudge them the title win. My main source of envy is that they managed to sign Khouma Babacar on loan from Fiorentina without paying a penny in wages. I only wish I’d seen he was available! In the end, he netted 14 goals in 13 appearances, added 6 assists to boot and averaged 8.07 over those matches. Added to him, they also have Diomansy Kamara (formerly of Fulham among many other clubs) in their attack, and in some ways it is a massive feather in our cap that we managed to match them point for point over the course of the season.

As it was, we ended up in the Serie C play-offs, facing off against Venezia in our quarter-final. The match is at home, on our terrible pitch which is in desperate need of relaying. I’ve already persuaded the board to invest in this course of action but it is not going to be solved overnight. Interestingly, this is not a two-legged tie, but played as a one-off match which could go to extra-time and penalties.

In the end, we nicked a 1-0 win over a surprisingly strong Venezia side. After trading blows for the first hour we finally took the lead when substitute Gustavo Páez (recently returned from a broken wrist) slotted home from what looked like a marginally offside position. But hey, after missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference, was I going to complain about something going our way?

We had progressed to a two-legged semi-final against familiar foes Casertana. During the regular season we took 4 points from our two matches, so we headed into the game full of confidence.

The first leg was away from home, and with an almost full-strength side available, things looked good. We took the lead after 22 minutes, Nicolas Izzillo finishing off a great counter-attack. Some well-chosen words at half-time seemed to perk up the players but had no effect on the scoreline as the players went on to miss two clear-cut chances. Four minutes of injury time ticked by painfully slowly before the final whistle went and we took a valuable advantage back for the home leg.

The second leg wasn’t easy-going at all, and I sat through a very nervy 0-0 draw all the while hoping that we wouldn’t concede the crucial away goal that would completely obliterate our hard-earned advantage from the first leg. The situation wasn’t helped by the suspension of Rodrigo Alborno and Marco Valotti missing due to a call-up to the Italy U21 squad.

I then made a hefty mistake in telling the players I expected more from them despite the result and managed to upset half the squad…

The final was against Ascoli and took place over 2 legs. Once again we were away for the first leg, and for the second match in a row it ended 0-0. We were under the cosh for most of the game and I must admit I was very relieved to escape with a clean sheet.

The second leg started where the first left off. Ascoli had a goal ruled out for offside in the first half hour but then everything changed. Simone Tonelli, my make-up-the-numbers signing at the beginning of the season popped up to give us the lead before Mamadou Tounkara (only playing because Valotti is still with the U21s) added a second in first-half injury time. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.

I couldn’t believe them even further when we were awarded a penalty in the 50th minute, which centre-back Mirko Stefani tucked away. 3-0 up and cruising. Even in my wildest dreams I could not have envisaged this. I was hoping for a narrow 1-0 or something similar.

That’s how it ended, and we were up! Promoted to Serie B at the first attempt.

I cannot begin to describe how relieved I was to achieve this. As a result of my limitations as a Football Manager player, I have this feeling sometimes that everything is about momentum. Had I not managed to get promotion, I think I would have struggled to replace the players whose loans are ending, and possibly struggled to bring in many players of a decent level. Now I’m in Serie B, I think I can confidently attract a number of players who otherwise wouldn’t have given my club a second glance. The momentum is now with us and I look forward to next season, secure in the knowledge that Messina are going places!

FM15 Italian Hero – Season 1 progress report

Originally, I intended to only do an update at the end of the first season. However, circumstances have changed slightly so I thought it worthwhile to write something with only 8 games of the season remaining.

The media predicted that we would finish in 11th place, so for us to be sitting in second after 30 matches is a massive overachievement, however, it could have been so much more. As you’ll see from the graph below, we were top for a long period after a fantastic start to the season. Season 1 league positions 30 games

Even more frustrating, at one point we were 8 points clear. The stumble happened in the run of four games starting at the end of November where we took four points from four matches, including an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Savoia, which remains their only win of the season. Season 1 results 30 games

The only consolation I have at the moment is that Catanzaro have also now gone off the boil, and as I write we are 3 points behind with two games in hand.

Future 3-5-2 idea The 4-3-3 is working well, but I have other long-term tactical plans. Watching Italy at this summer’s European Championships has got me interested in developing a 3-5-2 along the lines of the system to the left.

There’s still a lot of work to be done with this system. I need to spend a bit of time reading about how a 3-5-2 should work and testing this when there is less at stake.

I think my plan will be to get promoted to Serie B and depending on the club’s progress through Serie B I might try to implement it before making a challenge for promotion into Serie A. Most of all, I want to wait until I can afford to spend some money reshaping the squad to suit the new system.

FM15 Italian Hero – Season 1, pre-season etc.

Pre-season was something of a formality really. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m still using the 4-3-3 I developed right from the start of the Roma save. It’s still a massive shot-monster of a system and one thing I would really like to do would be work out how to sacrifice some of those shots for more efficient finishing.

As for the squad, whoever assembled it was a lunatic. The club had virtually no central midfielders and a massive surplus of wingers and wing-backs. One of the first decisions I made was to go through the loan signing and terminate a handful of loans before the season started. One was a decent but unspectacular left-back on loan from Napoli whom we were paying €3,800 a week in wages. Given that all but one of the squad are on less than €2,000, this seemed wildly excessive. The only other player on similar wages is the best striker owned by Messina, a 35-year-old target man who’s being paid €3,500 a week until the end of the season. Unless he earns us promotion with his goals, his stay at Messina will be short.

So, with all this in mind, I went shopping. I had a brief list, and this is what I  got:

Simone Tonelli

Tonelli was brought in because his wages were cheap and he added a body to the midfield. I also liked his high mental attributes and decent physical attributes too. I’m not overly concerned by the lack of decent technical attributes as his role will be to simply support here and there in midfield, and the standard in Serie C isn’t that high anyway. At 23, he should still develop a bit too, so I’m hoping he might be good enough for us in Serie B too, whenever we get there.

Davide Monteleone

Monteleone was initially brought in to add height to what is a fairly short back line, but he has made very good progress in the few weeks he has been at the club and is my main defender now. I’m hoping I’ll be able to extend his loan next season, whichever division we’re in.

Rodrigo Alborno

After ditching the overpaid left-back, my scouts recommended Alborno. I managed to sign him on loan for the season without paying a penny, which was a fantastic piece of business. Also, at 21 he’s unlikely to develop into a first-team player for Inter, so I have half an eye on him becoming a permanent member of the squad.

Alex Teodorani

Of the two goalkeepers already at the club, one has very poor mental attributes and the other is on loan. I searched for transfer-listed keepers and found this guy. He was valued at over €100,000 by Cesena, but they wanted him gone and I signed him on a free. He’s the best keeper at the club now, but I will be looking to replace him soon – I’d like someone with better goalkeeping attributes like Handling.

Finally, to boost my striking options, I signed these two:

Mamadou TounkaraMarco Valotti

Tounkara offered good physical presence, while Valotti is someone I encountered in my brief and abortive Brescia save. He’d already been snapped up by Lazio and they were happy to loan him out without me paying anything. His attributes are incredible for this level, all except his Decisions, which is my only area of concern. However he is ideal for the False Nine role and should play a key part this season.

I still need to trim the squad, but some of the decisions are hard to make. I have three young right-backs all of similar ability and I clearly need to offload at least one of them (none are first choice at the moment) but picking which one is going to be difficult.

Results-wise, pre-season was pretty good. I started off experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation, which wasn’t really working, before switching to the 4-3-3.

Season 1 pre-season results

In fact, the 4-3-3’s first match was the Italian Cup 1st qualifying round against Piacenza, which was a great way to start off my competitive career with Messina. My only concerns were based around the three goals we conceded to Cuneo, though I had rotated the squad quite heavily for that match.

I’m feeling pretty confident going into the league season. The board want me to finish above mid-table, but I’m aiming to be in the promotion picture come the end of the season.

FM15 Italian Hero – sorting out a Mess(ina)

Hello again, long time no speak! There’s a reason for that; mostly that I haven’t really got on with FM16. I’ve tried (and tried, and tried…) but for some unknown reason I cannot connect with the game in the same way that I did with FM15. I’ll freely admit that this may well be because I was pretty successful with FM15 and I’ve found wins, clean sheets, goals – in fact most things associated with a successful football team – hard to come by.

As a result, I’ve gone back to FM15. I started a new save on the full-fat version with Forest and played a couple of seasons of that. However, the problem there was that Forest start the game with a good squad and some money to spend. I very quickly addressed the weaknesses in the squad and things were going a little too smoothly. I won the Championship in my first season, finishing with 100 points (probably the first time I’ve done that since the old CM days) and made it into the Europa League in my second season. I wasn’t really feeling the challenge, so I’ve decided to start all over again once more and set myself a more difficult task.

Once again, at this point I should stress that I am not a Football Manager wizard by any stretch of the imagination – I’m sticking to my tried and tested 4-3-3, making only minor tweaks here and there, and remember how this post started? with me failing badly on FM16. This isn’t false modesty, it’s me attempting to put whatever success I achieve into context. I’m very surprised at, as well as very pleased with, my success with Volendam, my moderate success with Roma (when compared with what they could potentially do) and also with what was shaping up to be a pretty successful Forest save.

So what next? Well, as I was working my way through my other saves during my experimentation with FM16, I was still picking up the odd Steam Achievement here and there. After checking which achievements I still hadn’t obtained, my eye fell upon one of them – Italian Hero. Basically, the aim is to get promoted from the bottom tier to the top. I think this is at one club only, rather than taking a club from Serie C to Serie B and then job-hopping to a promotion contender and securing promotion to Serie A. This is my new challenge. It particularly appealed as I had thoroughly enjoyed developing Volendam from a small, semi-professional club to the dominant side in the Netherlands. Ultimately, this will be my aim here too.

140px-a-c-r-_messinaAs you may have guessed from the title, my new club is Messina. There’s a bit of a story behind this which taps into several different aspects of my personality and my motivation for playing FM.

Firstly, I like developing a small club. Playing as Roma was fun but there’s a pressure that comes with taking over a title challenger which I don’t like. I prefer to build something of my own and set things in place for long-term, sustained success.

Secondly, I like restoring a fallen club. Messina were in Serie A as recently as 2004/05, finishing seventh, before a couple of poor seasons saw them relegated to Serie B and financial problems saw them resign from the league in 2008 and start again down in Serie D. Now back in Serie C, they seem ripe for a revival.

ACR Messina league history

The final, and perhaps daftest reason, is that I like to build a connection with a club and imagine a back-story. My reason for choosing Messina is related to Commissario Montalbano, a fictional detective based in a coastal town in Sicily. I decided that for this reason alone, I should choose a Sicilian club and Messina are the only candidates, with Catania, Palermo and Trapani all higher up the divisions. I’ve even named my managerial alter-ego after one of the characters from Montalbano – Guiseppe Fazio – who most embodies the traits I would like to see in myself: loyal, thorough and hard-working.

Perhaps related to the first points, I like to manage a club that could plausibly be described as underdogs or outsiders, so taking a club who can represent the oft-maligned island of Sicily against the oppressive mainland of Italy seemed even better.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. The next post will outline my assessment of the squad, signings, tactics, pre-season etc.